Young Giovanni arrives in Padua to discover a lush and mysterious garden on the estate of the mysterious Doctor Rappaccini. Amidst the verdant and exotic foliage, Giovanni finds love in the form of Beatrice - the Doctor's daughter. What deadly secret does the young girl and her father keep hidden?
Published in 1844, Rappaccini's Daughter, is one of Hawthorne's most well known works. And, when one reviews the plot, the story can be considered an early example of modern science fiction. Later works, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and other more contemporary pieces, come back to consider what Hawthorne explored in these pages - does man have the right to shape nature to his own will?
Public Domain (P)2014 Steven Jay Cohen
This classic tale is a favorite of mine, as it juxtaposes the ordinary joy of love at first sight with the murky twist of poison fruit. Steven Cohen, as narrator, fills a lovely classic with the richness of voice. He does so without overwhelming the writing, which is an important skill in a delicate piece like "Rappacini's Daughter". His skill as an actor infuses the dialogue and descriptions with pensive care. I look forward to listening to it again.
If you're looking for a short story classic to listen to while taking a short road trip or doing some gardening around the house, you can't do much better than this Hawthorne tale.
The final confrontation (or "interview") between Giovanni and Beatrice wherein Giovanni learns that Dr. Rappacini has made him as poisonous to all other life around him as Beatrice herself - all in the name of love.
It took me a few minutes to get accustomed to Cohen's breathy performance of the story. But, just as it takes time to grow accustomed to a new actor playing Doctor Who or Superman, I eventually fell under Cohen's spell. And, truth be told, I found my mind strayed less from his narration than it has for other narrators I've listened to.
Because it's only about an hour and a half long, I actually listened to it in my car as I was driving back home from my weekend retreat. So, yes, it's the perfect length for one sitting.
This was one of my favorite stories in high school, and it was a real treat to have it told to me once again. It's truly lost none of its power after all these years and remains a true literary classic.
Steven Jay Cohen's reading was very suitable to the material, soft, propelling, at times breathless (breath being a dominant motif in Hawthorne's story). I first read the story 40+ years ago in seventh grade and remember liking it almost as much as "The Birth-mark," though I'm not sure what I could have made of either of these stories back then. The Romantic notion's and ideology that permeate " Rappacicini's Daughter" are quite lofty and challenging to follow. That said, Hawthorne's sentences are simply beautiful and are well-suited for being read aloud. I think Hawthorne would have appreciated Mr.. Cohen's reading a great deal.
Mr. Cohen has five character voices to differentiate (3 male and 2 female) and he does an excellent job transitioning from narrator to the various character voices (something that seems to throw a lot of audible book readers off balance.)
My only reason for withholding a fifth star for performance is that Mr. Cohen's reading varied from the printed text (I was following along in the well-respected Library of America edition). Perhaps it was a matter of textual variants, but some were surely flubs that could have been easily fixed in the studio. But nothing so serious to mar the listener's experience of this marvelous Hawthorne tale.
Rappaccini's Daughter is a story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the third-person point of view of Giovanni Guasconti, a medical student in medieval Padua. It centers around Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher who grows a garden of poisonous plants. He rears his daughter, Beatrice to tend the plants, and she becomes resistant to the poisons, but in the process she herself becomes poisonous to others. Guasconti falls in love with Beatrice watching her daily outside his apartment window. He enters the garden and meets with Beatrice a number of times. The climax is when Giovanni brings a powerful antidote to Beatrice so that they can be together, but the antidote kills Beatrice rather than getting rid of her poisonous nature.
Steven Jay Cohen's portrayal of the different characters was very engaging. I’d listen to another one of his narrations any time.
Listening to this story, I can't help but wonder if Hawthorne was a student of Shakespeare. The story has Gothic overtones and is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's prose is as dense as a Christmas pudding and just as intoxicating. In Rappaccini's Daughter, he presents as disturbing a love story as any I have read. If he were writing in today's genre-crazy market, this book would be shelved alongside H.P. Lovecraft and modern horror writers. As an audio story, this would fit well on the Pseudopod horror fiction podcast, albeit as a jumbo episode.
Be prepared for descriptiveness of a style not popular among 21st Century writers. Hawthorne's penchant for sensuous verbiage is nearly pornographic for the lover of words. If you like your fiction hard-boiled and your writing stark, you may not find Hawthorne to your taste.
Speaking of pornography, the treatment of gender relations in this book is solidly set set in an earlier century. Told from the viewpoint of a young Italian gentleman! the story is from start to finish an amazing example of the male gaze. Giovanni sees the entire world in relationship to himself, with the lovely Beatrice a main character with no actual personality of her own. In fact, that is the plot of the story. Beatrice's evil father, representing Science in its 19th Century guise, uses his daughter for his amoral researches and in the end loses her. We are left with the horrible realization that the religious good intentions that undo Beatrice are still with us today. While so much of Hawthorne's world seems distant in both time and space, the forces at play here continue to this day.
Cohen's voice brings life to the characters in this story. His accents and tonal changes seem spot on for the characters in the book, and by the end of the story, you will forget that you are listening to a single-voice narration. Although the narrator's voice is a bit breathy at the beginning, overall this was a very enjoyable reading of the work.
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